Beanfield: Beanfield (Streetbeat) Munich trip-hop techno-funk electro-whatsit trio, tres cool due to their ultra-controlled thoughts about the space surrounding their oily pulses and airy, mechanical voices. Beanfield's got plump synth bass and funk-not-hip-hop drum sequences, minimal parts drawing the essence from the classics for max effect. Tossing in the electric induction noises, they have realized they're indebted far more to Kraftwerk than Kool & the Gang, and that is a big shift in the pop attitude.
Brian Wilson: Imagination (Giant) Not as good as his comeback album of about 10 years ago, 'cause the settings cry out for more zest, not more sheen. “Your Imagination” kind of lacks one, though dripping with Brian's radiant barbershop harmonies; it turns into a Coke commercial, but then he made 'em what they are today. “She Says That She Needs Me” is a Pet Sounds-ish epic with a hint of that special little swagger. His “Keep an Eye on Summer” remake has deluxe modulations and reharmonizations; he also redoes “Let Him Run Wild.” There're audacious harmonies in “Cry,” and no mediocre lyricists like Carole Bayer Sager to soften it up. With its “bad circus” vibe, “Happy Days” is eccentric and exciting – Brian laughs acidly at his pain, then plops pretty chord progressions into the chorus. It all gets to sounding okay – Brian's back – but he can do much better, and he will.
The Centimeters: German Verbs (Bzang) A local buncha cranks, the Centimeters seem Syd-like in their non-chord acoustic strumming and mumbled antipop; their sour tuneage and eerie sound patches are like a dare. There's a weird dirty grace in “The Eskimo Song” and its swirls of cheapo synthesizer, and in the pensive theme of “Procession.” They play by their own bad-dream rules, so you're forced to admire the sardonic integrity within these “grooves.”
Chika Chika: Chika Chika (WIN) They announce their own name on the opening cut, a smart move. Elsewhere, CC smears colors in cuts with many, many far-out instrumental touches. The opener is circusy, guitars and organs and substandard synthesizers – elaborate, a lot of thought and effort put into it. And such good humor! Tom Grimley's engineering touch of amp buzz on every song is getting old, but maybe these songs wouldn't have got made at all without his presence. Psycho-funny fun, like the Silver Lake-style sarcastic voices on “Tight Whitey,” but another good arrangement. “Candy Shoppe” is in a funxploitation mood (a bit cluttered); the vocal version of “A Story So Old” is a tuneful drone with dramatic shifts in tone – its instrumental version is just plain different music, conjunctions of instruments into wide-screen glory, vast canyons of sound.
DeeJay Punk-Roc: ChickenEye (Independiente) The vibe is cast on the opener, “I Hate Everybody,” where they don't sound like they do, just hate being hemmed in. What they like is old-school, anything so long as it's from the past. It's all jess plain fonky, man, all these electro, TV-kitsch samples, hypermetal/funk/R&B soundscraps (they make “Far Out” a vocal loop, like these muhfukkas are too smart for all that peace & love-type jazz), scratchin' and Doug E. Fresh-style boomin' bass drum sound, chintzy synth soundz, next to real pretty airy SHIT – juxtaposition is all, big fuckin d. “All You Ladies” is a sweet tune, actually, with trumpets, beats, fx, jazzy e-pianos, acoustic bass, all that kinda “urban” SHIT, and you'll have no shortage of vocoders, all of it in one nifty package, delightful dessert recipes too.
Fantastic Plastic Machine: The Fantastic Plastic Machine (Emperor Norton) With the pores of a sponge, these Japanese soak up lite and loose our common pop refs, spurt peppy disco beats and revel in tone color. It's a musical approach to dance-pop, invigorating pop-cultural tourism – like the Pizzicato Five, whose righteous Maki Nomiya guests on “Dear Mr. Salesman.” The sparkle is in the deft stitching of the crappy organs, multicolour harp breezes and tight trumpets.
“Fantastic Plastic World (voice 'n' baroque)” has a colossal palette of finger cymbals, funky drums, thereminlike moan and harpsichord, like . . . why, like a new Peter Thomas Sound Orchestra record! Motown rears its pointy head throughout, and in “Filter,” with its Herb Alpert honky horns and lovely, lovely angel's choir, one can see perhaps an Acapulco evening walk in the sand, in scarf and shades. And this is exactly the point.
Grupo Mono Blanco y Stone Lips: El Mundo Se Va a Acabar (Urtext) Rather scholarly effort at a new son jarocho (music of Veracruz, Mexico). As the notes succinctly point out, this is not an overtly sentimental sound, yet it's emotionally charged, a la baroque; the feeling comes through dense musical content. It's all about the wonders of spidery counterpoint, like minuets; these primly beautiful tunes are played on guitars, cuatro, violin, voices, percussion and piano. Gentle, wise, very relaxing.
Ketil Bjornstad/ David Darling/Jon Christensen/Terje Rypdal: The Sea II (ECM) Three Norwegians, one American, four longtime friends make a kind of sentimental, romantic new piano jazz that never gets the chance to cloy, as Rypdal's searing electric guitar cries keep nagging at it. A troubled beauty pervades, elegiacisms with startling chord changes and parallel-world unison lines, pulling you in. Ponderous, the good kind.
Michael Atherton: Ankh: The Sound of Ancient Egypt (Celestial Harmonies) Mr. Atherton makes music deduced from visual representations of the instruments and of players holding them. Lutes, harps, lyres, bassoonlike reeds, tablalike things, booming membranophones, rattles. Of course we'll never know if it sounded like this, but it may as well have, and even if not, Atherton has meantime invented his very own kind of music. Beguiling, spiritual, sunny, serene.
Peter Thomas Sound Orchestra: Futuremuzik (Scamp) Back when men dared to be suave ('60s-'70s), Herr Thomas was an earthmover supreme, throwing down the bossest of swinger mo-teefs. Yes, he damn near invented 'em all: A classically trained composer, Thomas wisely claimed his fame writing music that extended his own goofy personality in a series of scores for spy-outer space-horror etc. cult flicks. It was a time of melody and harmony over rhythm flogging, and arranging instruments audaciously. Exceptionally groovy combos of idioms and sitars and twangy guitars, bossa beats and rinkydink synths, plush Hammond organs and vocal femme fatales, pumped on by the heavy German jazz cats of the day. It all swangs real good, and you get some actually lovely orchestral themes a la Paul Mauriat or Richard Clayderman. It's the color, man, we're hungry for it.
Robert Williams: Date With the Devil's Daughter (Tone Casualties) Former Beefheart monster drummer is also a nifty arranger, fiddling about with drum 'n' bass-inspired orgies of nervous-breakdown MIDI sound. The opening cut has guest “Wild Man” Fischer leaving voice-overs on Robert's answering machine (glad he doesn't know my number). The disc is a cool, intelligent and funkily cerebral stew of speedy polymeters, info-overload samples and crosswires, and guests like Mark Mothersbaugh giving vent to their urban fears. Exhilarating, but 'round the time of “John Liar,” when Robert calls Lydon a “pussy little has-been,” and later on complains about his noisy neighbors, you'll realize how much he is a master rhythmist, though not a lyricist.
Vainio/Vaisanen/Vega: Endless (Mute/Blast First) Coupla Finnish Suicide fans had a dream of recording with their hero, Alan Vega, and got him to do his shticky Vega psych-out routine over their massive electronic hellfire. Vega – the peaking-tweaking Elvis – is in classic form, and this is the best Suicide album in a coon's age. Bulbous, electro-rolfing meta-sound and lots of vintage Vega urban paranoia: Talk to Jesus! Cheese it, the cops! Wuhh!
Voivod: Phobos (SlipDisc) and Slayer: Diabolus in Musica (Sony) Behold, the sea is silent, yet metal bands refuse to be. Voivod: Canadian heavy hairy boys operate within their own universe and parameters, somewhat like Canada itself. This is “ominous” music laced with special effects and reminiscent of the snarly moods of Blue Oyster Cult (true, everything reminds me of BOC). We know you need demon voices; well here they are, as well as spongy drums and cornpone Metallica riffs; the band's insularity also bequeathed them their bent for odd melodic turns; they do ugly time signatures too, and cover “21st Century Schizoid Man,” averagely. You know, it's all in the compression, like everything Slayer does. Slayer probably sounds like total shit in a rehearsal room, but take that slop and squeeze it real tight – well, take this new album: not a fucken thing you haven't heard before – so what? Their particular compressed stereo guitar sludge and puking howl way efficiently teach young Wilmette people how to get loaded and rebel. “Stain of Mind” does onslaught with a sphincter-clenching fire. “Death's Head” is pretty radical, but then so is “Screaming From the Sky” – it's a war protest; “Overt Enemy” has unnatural guitar harmonies and lyrically clutches American Justice to its heaving bosom: Kill that which oppresses your personal freedoms. Now flush your brain down the fucken drain with this evil rock up the fucken YANG-YANG, if you catch my drift. Long may they beat the brazen gong.
Will Oldham: Black/Rich Music (Drag City) A.k.a. Palace Music: He seems inbred, entombed in his own head, yet he mocks you. I don't actually crow at daybreak since hearing his Amurican folk/old-time relijun get its post-post run-through, making the temples bulge. His cracked warble may have straightened out a tad, but it's still as if witnessing another's collapse, his doomed distress. Will's terrible joylessness aspires to Flannery O'Connor's, and he must strum a guitar lethargically, or pump a wheezing organ. Behind his tiresome Midwestern irony are simple songs not entirely dismissable because of his real perversity. Your own emotional life not gnarled up enough? Will can help with his grim reflections and dire predictions (if he feels anything at all). His whole fatalistic trip is like finding an 80-year-old photograph of yourself in grandma's attic! Bad dream time.
Zoviet France: Digilogue (Soleilmoon) These guys have been around the English experimental scene since the dawn of time, and here's a collection of some of their pieces circa early-mid-'90s. It's instrumental, loopy, magnetic-tape, retro-progressive in its Echoplexes and furry sound. Hovering guitar (horns?) and scratchy electric interference undulate into each other, in eight cuts, none violent, all inquiring, not objecting. Their balance of cold inquiry and warm sonorities sounds like a great Eurock disc from '71 that hasn't dated. Structurally, it isn't so new – slowly evolving plains of sound, “events” instead of movements or choruses – but it's a special kind of harmonic distortion that's inviting to the ears, and only possible with analog equipment. You cannot improve on this music.
Ward off your enemies with:
Ammer, Einheit, Haage: Odysseus 7 (Invisible)
Amnesia: Lingus (Island)
Barry Adamson: As Above So Below (Mute)
Barry White: Boss Soul: The Genius of Barry White (Del-Fi)
Clifford Gilberto Rhythm Combination: I Was Young & I Needed the Money (Ninja Tune)
Don Byron: Nu Blaxploitation (Blue Note)
Elliott Sharp: Tectonics: Field & Stream (Knitting Factory)
Kayhan Kalhor: Scattering Stars Like Dust (Traditional Crossroads)
Les Thugs: Nineteen Something (SubPop)
Mara & Jalal: Immigri (Barbarity)
Mix Master Mike: Anti-Theft Device (Asphodel)
Oldarra: Le Chant Basque (Detour)
Percy Howard, Charles Hayward, Fred Frith, Bill Laswell: Meridiem (Materiali Sonori)
Plastikman: Consumed (Novamute)
The Makers: Psychopathia Sexualis (Estrus)
Various Artists: (R)evolution (The Critical Massive)
Various Artists: Blackwhole Styles (Big Dada/Ninja Tune)
Yellow Note: We're Not the Beatles (Liquid Sky)